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Guidance for New Web Design Firms


As I haven't been able to find a job in web design, I've been toying with the idea of starting my own firm. I am currently working as a tax accountant. However, after April 15th, I'll only be working 30 hours per week. This would allow me to start doing web design as a sideline business.

I know that I'll need a lawyer to draw up my initial contracts and to start my business (probably an LLC). Do you have any suggestions for a lawyer in [my area] or [another] area who is well versed in Internet law?

If I do start my own business, I probably would also want to include hosting services. Has anyone heard anything good or bad about Successful Hosting and its reseller services? Is there anything in particular I need to look for in the services provided by the host?

As my initial work will be done from my home, I don't anticipate much in the way of capital outlay in starting up the business. I've already got the computer, software, printer, ISP, etc, so I think I would only need stationery and business cards. Am I missing anything that I would immediately need for start-up?

When you started out, what was your biggest mistake and how do I avoid making a mistake like that?

Thanks in advance for your wonderful advice,

I'm currently in the same situation right now. I have a degree in web and multimedia design and it's still been very hard to find a job doing full time design, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Personally, I am starting a sole proprietorship. I found great free "base" contracts on the net to review and help draw up my own contracts. I lived in Elkhart, IN for a while but I can't recommend anyone there offhand. I went through my book and found some business lawyers and took it from there.

I'm in the same situation for hosting...I'm investigating who I want to use as my host. The people on the list have some great suggestions as to hosting as well. When I make my decision on hosts, I'll let you know. RTS hosting is supposed to have great customer service. I think it's a personal choice as long as their uptime is good.

Do you anticipate doing your own graphics? (i.e. buttons, headers, ect? It's always a good idea to have some experience w/ graphics. Also, it's good to invest in some royalty free graphics. I use hemera graphics.

I'm still in the starting phase, but I wish you the BEST of luck. :)

I finished up my degree in computer science in December, but have been looking for a position since last April. I'd been sending resumes all over the Midwest without any luck.

Could you point me in the direction of those "base" contracts (offlist if you'd rather).

Due to my tax background, I'm leaning towards using a LLC so that the liability stays with the company. One advantage of the LLC is that it may be treated as a sole proprietorship for tax purposes.

I plan on doing the majority of the graphics as long as they are simple :) I use both PhotoDraw and Paint Shop Pro. I did take a course in graphic design, but it didn't focus on how to design; it focused more on the different software packages (all Mac). In other words, I use the KISS system (keep it simple stupid) lol Thanks for the tip on the royalty free ones.

I wish you the best of luck too! It would be nice to compare notes :-D


Let me point you to some stuff that I found lately. It might be of some help.


Hope these work!

Some hosting I've been researching:

I am sure lots of people can help you with the hosting questions.

That's quite a transition from accounting to design! My ex was an accountant and he said, "we just don't think with the same side of the brain as creatives." lol. I said, "No, you just choose not to!"

I have a whole bunch of bookmarks so let me know if I can help point you to any other resources.

BTW, I ordered business cards from www.vistaprint.com. I am VERY pleased with their service! I just got mine the other day and they look great. I got the 500 glossy cards. You just create your card online w/a huge amount of templates to pick from.

I just started a business a few months ago too and I do have a few suggestions based on my limited experience to date. I'm sure there are a ton of more things that I'll think of later, but these are the ones that occur to me initially. btw, I still work full-time in a professional position, so I do this part-time--for now--and I find that organization and preparation are key.

1. Hosting.
I selected a small local company to establish a working relationship with them and support local. Of course, I did like their prices and options too. Since then, I have been able to get lots of advice with a simple phone call and it has been great. We promote each other and it is good networking.

2. Website presence.
Being a one-person shop, I focus on having a good website that gets hit quite well in the search engines. Again, personally, I focus on the local aspect for SEO optimization (i.e., plugged in "Ottawa" in images, keywords, title and text). I have been pleasantly surprised at the amount of local, unsolicited inquiries I have received.

3. Business plan.
I spent quite a bit of time doing this even though I do not plan on applying for a loan. I found that I refer to it often for grabbing sentences and general promotion stuff. Also, it helped me think through all aspects of the work and where I want to be in 1 year, 2 years and 5 years. Another thing is it made me think about my target group and my philosophy. I decided I wanted to focus on small local businesses and to provide quality work at an affordable price. This has helped me set the tone for my promotion activities. Plan for and think about the future.

4. Accounting.
Buy an accounting program. Research your tax obligations in your country. Register your business name. Think about the payment options for your clients. 50% up front - no exceptions.

5. Process.
Spend a lot of time thinking through your work flows and development process. Set up a work management scheme. I wrote myself a little application in PHP and javascript to keep control of enquiries and work orders which I run on my local server. I use it to create my quotes and then output to HTML to send to clients. Created and validate a standard contract and appendices. Create an information sheet form for your customers and take it with you to your initial consultations. It keeps you on track and ensures you collect the information you need. If you would like a copy of what I created for myself, just email me offlist. Think about how you are going to get approval for mockups (client restricted areas? print?). Your clients will ask for a quote so be prepared to have a methodology in place to calculate your price. You will find that this is an acquired skill which improves with each request.

6. Create a personal reference library.
Organize your favourite folders and save all URLs that have information that you may use in the future or even that you just like their design. You will refer to them later when you need inspiration or help.

7. Read, read, read.
Join a ton of lists and stay current. I am a lurker on WD, WDF, Evolt's list, Babble, HTML Writer's Guild, digital eve and most recently this list.

8. Promote in RL.
Business cards, stationery, logo, car window sticker and post office box address.

9. Get a thick skin.
Look to your peers, friends and relatives, not your clients for positive feedback and support. I was quite accustomed to creating things (for free) for people who would oooow and aaaaah and I noticed that clients only focused on what wasn't there or on what was wrong or what they didn't like. I initially felt defensive until I realized that this was a business relationship only and had to be treated differently.

10. Establish and build a good reputation.
Ensure quality. Check your coding with the validator at w3.org, optimize images. Throw in extras.

11. Be Saavy.
If you are planning to be a one-person shop, you must be able to handle a variety of technical questions, sometimes not even directly related to internet technologies, e.g., how much ram should I have?

Good luck. It is a wonderful exciting adventure and getting those first few paying clients is just such a boost.




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